DA issues policy requiring prosecutors consider reason for looting during state of emergency before charging with crime

Policy issued by Contra Costa DA Diana Becton to Deputy DA’s. Courtesy of CCCDA.

Antioch Mayor Wright “disturbed” by and doesn’t “agree with this approach”; 3 arrested for theft of $20,000 of alcohol in San Pablo not charged as looting; more cases affected by policy

By Allen Payton

Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton issued a policy in June, that recently went public, requiring her Deputy DA’s assess the reason someone was looting during a state of emergency before filing charges against them. However, the policy doesn’t prevent police officers from arresting the looter, according to DA’s office spokesman, Scott Alonso. CCDA Looting Guidelines

In the document obtained by Red State News, and shared with the Herald today, reads:

Theft Offenses Committed During State of Emergency (PC 463)

In order to promote consistent and equitable filing practices the following analysis is to be applied when giving consideration to filing of PC 463 (Looting):

1. Was this theft offense substantially motivated by the state of emergency, or simply a theft offense which occurred contemporaneous to the declared state of emergency?

a. Factors to consider in making this determination:

i. Was the target business open or closed to the public during the state of emergency?
ii. What was the manner and means by which the suspect gained entry to the business?

iii. What was the nature/quantity/value of the goods targeted?

iv. Was the theft committed for financial gain or personal need?

v. Is there an articulable reason why another statute wouldn’t adequately address the particular incident?”

“I am not sure how they obtained the policy. But it is our policy,” Alonso confirmed. The policy is true but the article in Red State is highly misleading and frankly wrong.”

He then shared a link to an analysis of the policy and articles about it by Red State and other publications on the Snopes website devoted to fact checking, which has some of it’s own controversial history in getting things wrong, at times.

Alonso then clarified matters by writing, “Nothing in the guidelines prohibits the police from arresting someone for a crime. It is really important to underscore these guidelines are because of the COVID-19 shelter in place given Governor Newsom’s statewide order to declare a state of emergency. We look at if the theft is because there is a state of emergency – or is this simply an offense contemporaneous to the state of emergency. We wanted to ensure consistency across the Office in considering any criminal charges for alleged violations of PC 463. Historically, prior to COVID-19 – we could find no recent evidence that our Office had filed looting charges during a state of emergency.”

“As you know, when evaluating any criminal case our prosecutors look at the circumstances surrounding the incident,” he continued. “These guidelines are consistent with how we evaluate criminal cases. The policy does not say we won’t file these types of cases. The Red State article is incredibly misleading and frankly written from a slanted point of view. The author of the piece did not reach out to us prior to publication. I appreciate you reaching out in advance of publishing anything.”

Section 463 of the California Penal Code states that a person convicted of second-degree burglary or grand theft during a state of emergency is guilty of the crime of looting, which can be punishable by imprisonment in county jail for one year. However, alternative sentencing for someone on probation can be issued for 180 days in jail and 240 hours of community service. The crime of petty theft during a state of emergency is increased to a misdemeanor punishable by six months in county jail or 90 days in jail and 80 hours of community service.

Mayor Wright Responds

In an email sent from his re-election campaign account on Monday, Antioch Mayor Sean Wright wrote to Antioch residents with the subject line, “Unbelievable what our District Attorney just did.”

“I am disturbed by our Contra Costa County District Attorney’s announcement that our police officers must consider if looters ‘needed’ stolen property before they can charge them with looting,” he wrote. “Our DA is the first and only DA in the nation urging this kind of guidance.”

“Looting that takes place in times of emergency, such as we are going through, is against the law,” Wright continued. “According to our DA, if the looters ‘need’ an item in a retail shop, for example, it is OK for them to take that item without being charged. I don’t agree with this approach – do you? Please feel free to share your thoughts on this by clicking here to send me an email.”

He then provided a link to an article about the matter on The Daily Wire.

3 Arrested for $20,000 Theft of Alcohol Not Charged With Looting

One of the cases already affected by the policy includes three people arrested during the COVID-19 pandemic for stealing $20,000 from a beverage store in San Pablo but not charged with looting. Another case involved a woman attempting to break into an ATM during the pandemic, who was also not charged with looting.

The Contra Costa Deputy Sheriffs Association and police officers’ associations in the county are expected to issue a response to the policy, soon.

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CCDA Looting Guidelines


CCDA Looting Guidelines


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